KUSHIRO, Japan – In his three years in Mason City, Sota Isogai became a sensation. The only thing bigger than his scoring totals was the joy with which he played the game. His abilities on the ice were known far and wide…but not quite as wide as the smile that he wore to the rink each day.
Japanese hockey fans are about to find out what junior hockey fans in northern Iowa learned about Isogai over the last three years.
The forward and longtime fan favorite in the River City has signed with the East Hokkaido Cranes of Asia League Ice Hockey, becoming the 16th player to make it to the pros after suiting up for the North Iowa Bulls, and is set to be the first to play for an Asia League squad when the Cranes’ season gets underway this fall.
Isogai, who grew up near the Japanese city of Nagano, etched his name firmly in the Bulls’ and Mason City Toros’ history books over his three years in town, racking up 143 points in 128 regular-season games at the NAHL and NA3HL levels. After playing for the Okanagan club in Europe during the 2018-19 season, he made his mark immediately upon arriving in the United States for the 2019-20 campaign, scoring 38 points in a Bulls uniform and helping the team earn an NA3HL West Division championship.
He returned to the Bulls in 2020-21, contributing 31 points on the way to another West Division crown. His seven points in the postseason, including a pair of goals in the West Division Finals, were a major factor in the team’s run to its fourth Fraser Cup title. His game reached new heights in 2021-22 as a member of the newly-branded Toros, rolling up 72 points to finish second on the roster in scoring and leading them back to within a win of another Fraser Cup tournament.
Isogai also made his NAHL debut in 2021-22, suiting up once again for the Bulls as part of a seven-game call-up in November and December. He made his NAHL debut November 20 against the St. Cloud Norsemen, marking his 100th appearance in junior hockey, one night after reaching 100 career junior points with a pair of goals against the Minnesota Loons.
His first NAHL appearance put him in rare company as one of just 11 Japanese-born players to ever appear in an NAHL contest, including former Bull and recent New Hampshire and Bentley University standout Kohei Sato. Five of the previous 10 NAHL alumni to come from Japan returned home to join professional teams.
The East Hokkaido Cranes joined the Asia League in 2019, but trace their history back to the founding of the Nippon Paper Cranes in 1949. The Cranes have become a dominant force in Japanese professional hockey, with the two teams combining to win nine All-Japan championships since 2006.
The North Iowa Bulls and Mason City Toros congratulate Sota Isogai on his professional signing with the East Hokkaido Cranes, and wish him all success in the next stage of his hockey career.